PTSD in children can be treated in a few hours, says study

It is a common belief that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects only war veterans, however, it’s a condition that can develop in anyone who experiences a traumatic incident including children. Previous research has shown the effectiveness of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EDMR) or trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to treat PTSD in adults. So far, the effectiveness of these therapies in children and adolescents had not been compellingly proved.

A new study by researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) and GGZ Rivierduinen (Trauma Center for Children and Youth) has found that children and adolescents suffering from PTSD can be treated in a few hours using specific therapies. For the purpose of the study, results of which were published in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry on June 28, 2017, the researchers compared two trauma-focused therapies — EMDR and cognitive behavioral writing therapy (CBWT) — to treat childhood PTSD.

The researchers based their analysis on 103 children and adolescents between the ages of 8 and 18 years who had experienced a single traumatic incident such as a road accident, physical abuse, sexual assault or traumatic loss, amongst others.

Both therapies require children and adolescents to face the traumatic memory without any previous preparation. In EMDR, the child’s traumatic memory is triggered while the working memory is simultaneously occupied in an external task (focusing the eyes on the fingers of the therapist). In CBWT, the child, along with the therapist, writes a story on a computer about the traumatic event, including all the harrowing parts associated with the memory. In the final therapy session, the child shares the story of the incident with his or her loved ones.

Brief and cost-effective therapies provide long-lasting results

Past meta-analytical research shows that nearly 16 percent children develop PTSD after being exposed to a traumatic incident, with variations based on gender and the type of trauma. Carlijn de Roos, a clinical psychologist and researcher at UvA, and lead author of the study explains that children who are unable to access the right treatment have to needlessly suffer. There is also a possibility that such children will develop additional problems and suffer retraumatization.

The researchers found that for either therapy, an average of four sessions was sufficient for effectively treating PTSD among children and adolescents. De Roos and her colleagues used a stopwatch to time the length of both the therapies. The analysis showed that EMDR took an average of 2 hours and 20 minutes to have a positive effect, whereas CBWT took 3 hours and 47 minutes to show the desired result.

According to de Roos, both therapies were equally effective in reducing PTSD, anxiety and depression, and behavioral problems. Due to their brief duration, they also proved to be cost-effective. She adds that the most important aspect is that the therapies provided long-lasting results, as evidenced by follow-up investigations which were conducted after one year.

Brief trauma-focused treatment can significantly reduce PTSD symptoms

According to de Roos, the findings of the study underscore the need for PTSD screening in children and adolescents to become a regular part of diagnosing and treating all mental health disorders. She adds that a brief trauma-focused treatment can significantly reduce symptoms once the condition is identified. The brief treatment will not only reduce the suffering of the children and their families but also significantly lower healthcare costs. De Roos mentions that for health professionals, the challenge will lie in identifying PTSD symptoms in the shortest time possible and referring children/adolescents for trauma treatment instantly. The researchers acknowledge the importance of conducting additional research into the positive effects of EMDR and CBWT in children and adolescents who have been exposed to more than one traumatic incident.

The after-effects of trauma can have a lasting impact on the mental health of children and adolescents if timely interventions are not provided. As one of the leading therapeutic boarding schools, White River Academy aims to provide the required help to teenage boys aged between 12 and 17, to recover from their mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder in adolescence. Call our 24/7 helpline number or chat online with one of our experts to know about the best PTSD treatment centers in your vicinity.

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